Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

MARK GROGAN (HMP Wandsworth)

MARK GROGAN (HMP Wandsworth)

Mark Grogan

AWARD WINNER 2022-23: Mark’s Award is for the deep humanity, commitment, and exemplary jailcraft he has shown over three decades as an Officer and Custodial Manager at HMP Wandsworth, and for being, in the words of one colleague, “one of the greatest leaders I have ever had the privilege to work with”.
[His Award is supported by Serco Justice and Immigration (UK&E).]

Senior Officer and Initial Nominator David Laughton says Mark Grogan has been at HMP Wandsworth for almost a third of a century during which time he has undertaken ‘every role within the prison.’ David adds that in his own three decades in both the private sector and HMPPS:

‘Mark is one of the greatest leaders I have ever met and had the privilege to work with and for. Mark does everything including ensuring the homeless prisoners on release have clothes, including tents when they leave – he has also ensured new arrivals without clothes get clothes from the charity stores that he set up. In Mark you have this tough, firm and professional prison officer – now Custodial Manager – who leads from the front and is highly respected by everyone in HMP Wandsworth.’

Mark not only makes sure his teams are trained, he also shares his wealth of knowledge, adding: ‘this to me is true leadership… for me he is what I aim to be in my job as a Supervising Officer.’ David concludes that:

‘In life you meet Golden Nuggets – motivators of people – and Mark is all this and more. 32 years on and he still delivers in his charmful and joyful manner. For me this is what all officers should aspire to, to be wise, firm, fair and a great listener and have the drive to stay hungry and not allow any negativity to engulf oneself.’

Butler Trust Local Champion and Communications Lead for London Prisons Kevin Field shares further testimonials, including this extraordinary story shared by Head of Operations George Clay:

‘We had a prisoner who was repeatedly self-harming day in day out, becoming more and more extreme and despite intensive efforts of numerous individuals and agencies he wasn’t improving, only getting worse. It was clear that if he continued the way he was going he would eventually die. I attended one of his self-harms and watched Mark Grogan spend 15 minutes speaking to him at his cell door. He had a uniquely powerful way of genuinely speaking to him like a human being with true sincerity, man to man, in such a direct but compassionate way, that I remember visibly seeing this guy’s mindset change before my eyes. I saw the tears in the prisoner’s eyes when Mark described in detail what it would be like for him to tell his family he had died in prison, and plan his funeral, as he had to do for so many others across his career.

‘The next day the same prisoner moved to a different wing and pretty much immediately stopped self-harming and stabilised. I am sure there were many people involved in achieving this but the power of Mark’s ability to get through to someone that no one else seemingly could in the space of less than 15 minutes will stick with me for a while! I am sure he has saved many people’s lives with this ability throughout his career.’

Custodial Manager Tim Minson is ‘sure everyone can feed back about what Grogie has done over the years’, but chooses to emphasise his support for new staff while being ‘an exemplary role model for all staff to emulate. On top of this he is always approachable for new (and old) staff.’ The apprentices, says Tim, have also ‘unanimously’ identified him as being helpful.

Meanwhile another colleague, Sonia Hunter, Custody Manager for Repatrations, simply says: ‘What more can be said? Family Liaison Officer lead for 6 years. A negotiator for those barricading or at height. Clothing Store for those being discharged with nothing. Encourages prisoners with the gardening outside reception. Assists with mental health transfers. Organises the memorial benches that are outside admin. Excellent rapport with staff and prisoners and very well respected. He deserves recognition.’

Governor Katie Price adds her own powerful testimonial, one which gives such insight into Mark’s gifts that it’s worth quoting in full:

‘It is the small everyday things that don’t readily get recognised as excellence, the voice of reassurance, the level head, the going out of your way to help others, and years of experience. Mark Grogan [is] humble, just does what he does because it’s in his make-up. Let us start with the serious side of his work, which isn’t in his job description, but he does it. Mark has been our Family Liaison Officer lead for 6 years, being there in person for family members bereaved after a death in prison, be it of natural causes or by suicide. When working in Reception, he set up a clothing store, a way of giving prison leavers without clothes something to keep them warm. He encouraged staff to donate unused clothing and soon ran out of storage space. He started a ‘give a tent’ scheme for men who were being released homeless. He developed a Foreign National wall of information for men when they arrived in the prison providing key information in different languages.

One Christmas Mark blagged the biggest Christmas Tree and decorated it with lights to brighten up prisoners first sight of prison as they got off the bus; he still does this. After a refurbishment of Reception building’s interior, he worked with prisoners to design and create a raised bed planter area softening the drab brick area of the building. Mark took it upon himself to organise a series of memorial benches to remember staff who had been lost while in service at the prison. Staff can sit in the sunshine; enjoying the gardens in the admin area on these benches sat beside the names of staff we remember.

There is much we could say about Mark, he has built sheds, laid carpets, painted walls, fixed staff member’s cars. He has also talked to prisoners like they are human beings, in one case preventing a prisoner from taking his life by suicide. Here is the measure of the man, a prisoner was released, Mark came across him many hours later outside the prison on his way home. Apparently looking distraught the man did not know how to get home. Mark drove him home, all the way from London to Liverpool. When all things are said and done Mark is a prison officer of more than 30 plus years, he is a credit to HMP Wandsworth and the prison service. He is a hidden hero, but more than that he is a thoroughly decent human being.’

Mark himself confirms his Governor’s remark about his humble attitude, calling his work ‘just things I have done to improve conditions’ and ‘just a human response to another human.’ He then slightly disentangles some of the legendary stories mentioned above, explaining, for example, that he went to Liverpool ‘to collect a dying prisoner’s sister who didn’t have the finances to see him for the last time in hospital’ as part of his Family Liaison Officer role, while the confused prisoner he met outside the prison ‘on a very cold Friday night in January’ was ‘an eighty-year-old man with dementia who had been released from Court in just a shirt and had managed to find his way back to the prison… So I took him to the pub to warm up and contact homeless charities to avoid him dying from the cold.’ This is what led to his starting the clothing store in reception (where he was working at the time) ‘to avoid releasing anyone late at night with just the clothes they came with or even just prison clothing. This has been a great success, and even though I work in a different department now the clothing store continues to ensure that no one is released with nothing.’